Explore More Articles
The Man’s Guide to
Haute Horlogerie

The development and continuous improvement of movements, functional displays and cases has been part of IWC’s philosophy since 1868. Complications such as the perpetual calendar, constant-force tourbillon and minute repeater are not only historically significant achievements in the art of watchmaking but also the fruit of the company’s in-house design and development efforts. With the video series “The Man’s Guide to Haute Horlogerie”, which consists of 7 episodes dedicated to iconic complications, IWC gives you an insight into the world of Haute Horlogerie made in Schaffhausen.

An Atelier on the Rhine

Haute Horologerie, or High Horology in English, literally means “high watchmaking”. In a sense, all fine watchmaking is “high” – producing a fine watch at IWC Schaffhausen requires finesse, skill and meticulous craft.

When a Complication is Grande

George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who lost his life ascending Mt. Everest, was asked in 1924 why he would attempt that climb. His reply is among the most famous about mountaineering: “Because it's there”

Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium

The new IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium is a top-quality time machine and a masterpiece of engineering at its finest built to appeal to men

It's Star Time

The Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia is another star up in the firmament of Haute Horlogerie radiating from IWC Schaffhausen. Ten years of intensive development work have gone into this impressive masterpiece

A Dream of a Watch

The Grande Complication celebrated its 20th birthday in a new case and joined the Portuguese family. Its suitability for everyday use and the wealth of fascinating functions remains unmatched

Icons of good style

The Portuguese Automatic, whose timeless elegance is matched by its technical perfection, makes its grand entrance as a classic horological beauty

Welcome to the club

The legendary name of this unpretentious watch with its automatic winding system and its movement spring-mounted in the case is back

Experiences

Pad Printing

Putting the stars into the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia

Text — Manfred Fritz Photos — Valentin Jeck Date — 16 March, 2012

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—Precision printing at IWC: sophisticated pad printing technology is used to transfer the stars to the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia.

Open the grey painted door with its tiny peephole in the industrial estate of Neuhausen near Schaffhausen and your ears immediately pick up on a measured, almost technostyle beat. It hisses and clicks and rasps. A faint smell of paint and solvent hangs in the air. Two gleaming pieces of equipment, each the size of a small cupboard and bearing a label on the side that declares they are “Swiss Made”, hammer out the music as if directed by some invisible CNC score. Marlies Scarpino, wearing a white lab coat and with her hair tied back, is using one of the control panels. She no longer hears the noise unless something doesn’t sound precisely the way it should. An offset printer by trade, she is the backbone – not to mention the sole virtuoso – in one of the smallest departments at IWC. A department specializing in something that, at first sight, appears to have little in common with watches: namely, printing. Marlies Scarpino is one of approximately 130 employees, mainly in parts and case production, who moved out of the relatively restricted premises in Schaffhausen to an area that had become vacant in the SIG industrial complex in neighbouring Neuhausen.

It is situated in an exclusive location on a rocky plateau, directly above the Rhine Falls. Most of the time, this natural spectacle remains hidden because a copse of lofty trees obstructs the view. Interestingly, IWC’s decision to set up an in-house printing shop is also indirectly connected with water. To be more precise, with the need to find a reliable solution for the luminescent rotating bezel used in the Aquatimer diver’s watch family. In the previous model, it was a chamfered rotating ring that had to be coated with luminescent paint: a stiff challenge. And IWC was dependent on a single manufacturer, who was able to supply the necessary quality but often had problems delivering as agreed. This situation, too, suggested that the time had perhaps come for a technical change. In the current family, the underside of the sapphire glass ring that is subsequently set into the rotating bezel is treated with a 0.3 millimetre thick coat of Superluminova® luminescent paint. And – depending on the model – in a variety of colours. That, then, was the situation that triggered the idea of doing all the printing in-house. The thinking behind the entire episode can best be summarized in a motto not untypical of IWC: if you want something done properly, do it yourself. Which brings us to Clemens Gisler. The young engineering graduate joined IWC just six years ago with skills in mechanical engineering, microtechnology and production logistics. Two years ago, he was entrusted with the job of perfecting the in-house printing of complicated displays for certain watches and of ramping it up for series production. As a result, IWC today not only has its own small, customized printing shop. “It’s an area with a big future,” says Clemens Gisler. And he underscores the claim with the most spectacular result to date, which he proudly presents in a Plexiglas case with several compartments. In his hands, he holds the answer to the question as to how 500 stars or more find their way into the IWC Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia.

The positions of the stars are based on a location stipulated by the watch’s owner and calculated personally by Zurich-based astronomer Ben Moore. The data he provides are used to produce the pre-press printing plate. This is then printed onto an ultra-thin sapphire glass disc, which will later rotate inside the watch. The lines are a gossamer-like one eight-hundredth of a millimetre thick and join up the individual stars to create well-known constellations. The disc depicting the horizon and the celestial equator is also printed here: three times in all for every customer who orders the watch. One set goes into the watch while the other two are kept in the spare parts department for the event of a worst-case scenario in which the glass discs on the back are severely damaged. This alone is impressive enough. But it is by no means all. Gisler proudly points out a night sky disc showing an orangey-red mass of stars. It is multicoloured Superluminova ®, as used in many of the Aquatimer models, and it is luminescent. The degree to which customers can personalize their watches is virtually unlimited.

“The thinking behind the entire episode can best be summarized in a motto not untypical of IWC: if you want something done properly, do it yourself.”

—The new flagship in the collection, the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia, comes complete with a detailed depiction of the night sky. So detailed, infact, that IWC was not prepared to entrust it to anyone else. The precision printing it requires is carried out in-house, in one of the factory’s smallest workshops. Other watch families benefit too.

The newly acquired skill of translating sophisticated watch mechanics into attractive displays opens up a host of other possibilities, ranging from rotating dive rings and the lettering on date discs to the astronomical displays on the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia. Be that as it may, it is no coincidence that the regular visitors to the print shop include IWC’s designers. Because Marlies Scarpino or Andres Leupp, who recently took over Clemens Gisler’s responsibilities as regards the actual printing, can tell them precisely what they are able to deliver. And their repertoire is pretty impressive. When a modern printing technique is needed to apply lettering, numerals or other graphic elements to straight, irregular and even convex surfaces, the magic term is “pad printing”. Every one of us uses or sees products that have been printed and signed in this way every day of our lives: keyboards and the controls on cameras, writing implements or car dashboards. In the case of a quality watch, of course, surface printing is out of the question: everything that is part of the face it shows to the world, from the dial to additional displays, is protected by a glass against abrasion and aging. And from a quality point of view, IWC’s approach to pad printing is no less meticulous than its watchmaking standards.

The word “pad” itself gives only a rough indication of what this flatbed printing process involves. Very basically speaking, a flexible silicon pad, which is rounded, tapered or conical in shape, picks up paint from a recess in the printing plate and presses it onto the surface to be printed. Thanks to the shape of the pad, which is compressed when picking up and depositing the paint, any air pockets are pushed outward and eliminated. The method can also be used to make clean prints on irregular displays. The machines for the process are custom-made for IWC by a supplier in a nearby village and have specially reinforced frames to ensure that there is absolutely no distortion whatsoever during printing. The details of the process, of course, are much more complicated. Let us take just one example: depending on whether standard or luminescent paint is being used for the printing process, the parts of the plate transporting the paint need to be etched in steel or laser-cut into a ceramic plate. This is because Superluminova ® is highly corrosive and would attack steel. The deepest-possible cavities on the plate for such high-quality printing are just 55 μm (micrometres). This means that the majority of printing steps need to be repeated several times for the coat of paint to achieve the desired thickness. Each of the printing passes is followed by a precisely timed drying and curing process at around 120°C in the oven, which is followed by a cooling phase on a cooling plate. The amount of effort involved can be seen if we consider the printing of the rotating bezel for the Aquatimer. First, three coats of black ink, with mirror-inverted cutouts for the numerals, are applied ‘wetin- wet’ to the underside of the sapphire glass ring. This is followed by several printing passes and drying phases, during which a coat of yellow or white Superluminova ® is built up to a thickness of 0.3 millimetres. Finally, the luminescent coat is given a white reflective finish that affords it greater protection. All in all, this amounts to no fewer than 33 passes. To complicate matters still further, the tone of the luminescent paint can be modified by the addition of various pigments to give it a more greenish or bluish tinge. In the case of the white Aquatimer, the first 15 minutes on the rotating bezel have a greenish glow, the rest a bluish one. Incidentally, Marlies Scarpino has never before worked with such an expensive paint: a single gram of the aluminium oxide powder and rare earths costs an eye-watering 25 Swiss francs: almost as much as gold before the financial crisis. Needless to say, all products undergo a strict quality inspection there and then under a microscope. If only the tiniest fleck of paint is missing from one of the numerals, the part ends up in a box: reject. Because, as Marlies Scarpino rightly points out: “For that kind of money I’d expect absolute perfection.”

—The purchaser of the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia chooses his own personal section of the night sky. This is printed onto an ultra-thin sapphire glass disc, which later rotates in the watch. The lines are a mere one eight-hundredth of a millimetre thick and join up the individual stars to create well-known constellations.
—Marlies Scarpino is the backbone of one of the smallest departments at IWC: a department specializing in something that, at first sight, appears to have little in common with watches: namely, printing.
Explore More Articles
The Man’s Guide to
Haute Horlogerie

The development and continuous improvement of movements, functional displays and cases has been part of IWC’s philosophy since 1868. Complications such as the perpetual calendar, constant-force tourbillon and minute repeater are not only historically significant achievements in the art of watchmaking but also the fruit of the company’s in-house design and development efforts. With the video series “The Man’s Guide to Haute Horlogerie”, which consists of 7 episodes dedicated to iconic complications, IWC gives you an insight into the world of Haute Horlogerie made in Schaffhausen.

An Atelier on the Rhine

Haute Horologerie, or High Horology in English, literally means “high watchmaking”. In a sense, all fine watchmaking is “high” – producing a fine watch at IWC Schaffhausen requires finesse, skill and meticulous craft.

When a Complication is Grande

George Mallory, the famous British mountaineer who lost his life ascending Mt. Everest, was asked in 1924 why he would attempt that climb. His reply is among the most famous about mountaineering: “Because it's there”

Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium

The new IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium is a top-quality time machine and a masterpiece of engineering at its finest built to appeal to men

It's Star Time

The Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia is another star up in the firmament of Haute Horlogerie radiating from IWC Schaffhausen. Ten years of intensive development work have gone into this impressive masterpiece

A Dream of a Watch

The Grande Complication celebrated its 20th birthday in a new case and joined the Portuguese family. Its suitability for everyday use and the wealth of fascinating functions remains unmatched

Icons of good style

The Portuguese Automatic, whose timeless elegance is matched by its technical perfection, makes its grand entrance as a classic horological beauty

Welcome to the club

The legendary name of this unpretentious watch with its automatic winding system and its movement spring-mounted in the case is back